Foreign Frights & Debt Doubts
Excerpts from Sidoxia monthly newsletter (Subscribe on right side of page)
Over the last few years the globalized nature of the financial crisis has forced a diverse set of world leaders to deal with obscure international flare-ups in countries ranging from Iceland to Dubai, and Greece to Tunisia. The crisis du jour is the popular revolt in Egypt against 30-year president Hosni Mubarak and his autocratic, authoritarian government. The situation for the U.S. becomes a little sticky because Egypt, although creating a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of less than the state of Illinois, is still the largest Arab country by population (approximately 82 million – even larger than Iran); a staunch ally with the U.S. in keeping peace with Israel; has contributed important intelligence to our country’s war on terror; and has been a responsible partner in controlling commerce through the all-important Suez Canal. The problem with Egypt and Mubarak’s regime is that the Egyptian economy is in relative shambles (they do not have oil reserves like their neighbors), unemployment is through the roof, and the government has been slow to push democratic advancements forward for the Egyptian people.
As emerging market “haves” increasingly join the ranks of the middle class, the people representing the “have-nots” of Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and others are thirsting for a cocktail of democracy and a higher standard of living, like some of their wealthier neighbors. These autocratic, authoritarian regimes can do their best to slow or delay the democratizations of their countries, but they cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Information is flowing faster than ever, and societies previously kept in the dark are now seeing the light of democracy.
Like any volatile government situation, there are threats and opportunities, depending on whether Mubarak stays in power, and if not, the nature of the new leadership. If an extremist government fills the leadership void, the U.S. may wish to rewind the clock and put the slow-moving reformist, Mubarak, back in power.
The short-term impact of the popular revolt may create additional volatility in the markets, but in the long-run, if the turmoil introduces more open, transparent, less corrupt, and democratic ideals to the new agenda, then the world will become a better place.
Bitter Debt Pill Tough to Swallow
There is never a shortage of issues to worry about, and from an economic standpoint, the suffocating amount of debt our country is dealing with is at the top of the concern list. The 2008-2009 financial crisis hole that we are still climbing our way out of is a friendly reminder of what happens to countries adopting irresponsible fiscal policies. The choking amount of debt the U.S. is swallowing remains a central issue for the current administration and will be a core topic to be debated through the 2012 Presidential election cycle.
How serious is the issue? The problem is serious enough the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just raised its budget deficit forecast for fiscal 2011 to hit a record $1.5 trillion (9.8% of GDP), a level higher than $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2010. The blame for the new record can be largely attributed to the recent extension of the $858 billion in Bush tax-cuts and other benefits/breaks. Kicking the can down the road recently led Moody’s Investors Services of threatening the U.S. with a downgrade of its triple-A rated debt.
The President addressed some of our fiscal problems in his State of the Union Address recently (e.g., proposing a freeze on discretionary spending), but the rubber really hits the road when he comes out with his budget proposal later this month. How serious is he about reducing our hemorrhaging deficits? We’ll soon find out when the individual budget line-items are distributed for everyone to see. Shortly thereafter, around the end of March, the debt ceiling impasse will become a game of political “chicken.” Each side, Democrats and Republicans, will attempt to withdraw concessions from the other party, in exchange for a vote that will prevent a disastrous default of our government’s debt payments. Basically, our government is effectively looking to expand its credit card credit line, because our government credit limit is maxed out.
The situation isn’t hopeless if our politicians can show leadership by making difficult, unpopular fiscal decisions, but if America ignores our painful debt problems and does not take its bitter medicine, then prepare for an economy on the verge of keeling over.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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